11.17.11

Michael Tomasky: Supercommittee Shows GOP Is Taking Hostages Again

A handful of Republicans are open to compromise on the deficit, but many more are prepared to use the supercommittee to harm the country for political gain, says Michael Tomasky.

It’s nice to see that Republican senators like Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Mike Crapo of Idaho are talking about breaking ranks on revenue. But it’s just talk. The actual Republican position as of this writing submits to $250 billion in semi-phony revenues but seeks to add $3.7 trillion to the 10-year deficit. And the supercommittee is a panel that, remember, is charged with reducing the deficit. This is more politics by hostage-taking, just like during the debt-ceiling fiasco.

So what do I mean when I say they want to add $3.7 trillion to the deficit? I mean that they want to make the Bush tax cuts permanent. The cost of the Bush tax cuts over the next 10 years comes to $3.7 trillion. They’ve said to the Democrats, in other words, that they will agree to minor revenue increases now, but only on the firm condition that the Democrats accept depleting the Treasury by 15 times as much over the next decade. What sort of idiot would take that deal? It’s not a deal at all. It’s hostage-taking, no different in spirit from the kidnapper who feeds you well for a few days but then takes the money and shoots you anyway.

This is way the Republicans play politics these days. Attach the debt-ceiling vote to completely unprecedented demands for spending cuts. Subject the debt-ceiling vote to cloture rules so that raising the limit requires 60 votes instead of 51—for the first time in the history of the Senate, since it began raising the debt limit during World War II. And now, agree to revenue increases, as long as you can force the other guys to agree to revenue cuts that you know and they know would cripple their party’s priorities and program for the country.

And about these revenues: they’re arrived at mainly by taking away deductions used by working- and middle-class taxpayers in order to pay for huge tax cuts for You Know Who. Under this plan, from Republican Senator Pat Toomey, households earning all the way up to $200,000 would actually see small tax increases, according to Joint Committee on Taxation estimates. Households from $200,000 to $500,000 would average a small cut, less than $2,000. Households from half a million to a million would enjoy an average cut of $13,301. And above a million, $31,764.

The Joint Committee reckons that to achieve the income-tax rate cuts the plan seeks, which go even beyond the Bush rates (especially for… yes, You Know Who), deductions like the one for home-mortgage interest would have to be cut by 75 percent. Hence, overall taxes go up on those below $200,000. And that, folks, is the Republican idea of “revenue.”

Republicans in the House and Senate are signing bipartisan letters saying they’re open to tax increases. Of course these letters never say which tax increases. That’s left vague precisely so some Republicans will sign. But the second that Emanuel Cleaver, the Missouri Democrat at the center of trying to arrange these bipartisan deals, pencils in one actual concrete tax increase, the Republicans will hear about it from Grover Norquist and their local Tea Party chapters, who’ll remind them of this very attractive and bull-headed right-wing fellow back home who just the other day was talking about how fun it would be to run for Congress...

These letters don’t mean anything. Alexander’s good intentions—and I believe he has them; he is a conservative but a reasonable human being who genuinely is troubled, I’m told, by the toxic atmosphere in his workplace—mean close to nothing. And there’s a specific reason why.

This morning on NPR, Andrea Seabrook reported that the Republicans on the supercommittee are “saying that they are going to vote en bloc.” So there you have it. Now ask yourself: If they are going to vote as one, do you think six Republicans are going to vote for meaningful revenue increases? Or are they possibly a little more likely to vote en bloc against any tax increases? The former is possible, I suppose. And the State College Rotary Club could give its Man of the Year award to Jerry Sandusky.

If Seabrook is correct, and there’s no reason to think she isn’t, there is no point to any of this. The committee consists of 12 members, six from each party. A simple majority vote can approve a plan. So, if one Republican took a Lamar Alexander pill the morning of the vote, you just might get a 7-5 tally for a compromise plan. But the en bloc posture makes that impossible. Such a posture makes democracy impossible.

The Republicans don’t want democracy. They just want the White House.

The Republicans don’t want democracy. They just want the White House. Everything they do is about that (except the actions and statements of their actual candidates, which are so inept or extreme as to indicate that those particular eight don’t really want the job at all). If the Republicans compromise here, if one Republican on the supercommittee breaks ranks, that whole strategy—the Mitch McConnell, one-term-president strategy—is dead. Obama has spent nearly three years saying he wants to bring both sides together, so if both sides do come together, it’s a huge political victory for him, and the Republicans know this and must deny it to him.

It’s true that John Boehner doesn’t want to let Obama run against a do-nothing Congress. The slim shaft of light that exists in this process emanates from that fact. But Boehner is outnumbered, and yes, that’s Eric Cantor you see up there, covering up that little shaft of light with a big rock. The GOP is a party of hostage-takers now in its DNA. The Democrats should have learned last summer that you lose when you negotiate with that sort.